Bassist, drummer, composer
Contemporary electronic composer and musician Patrick O’Hearn has released several quietly acclaimed solo records since the mid-1980s. A jazz bassist and drummer who has played with both Frank Zappa and the New Wave band Missing Persons, O’Hearn notes that his sound is sometimes difficult to categorize. He is often pegged as a New Age musician, but prefers to describe his sound as “’mood’ music,” he explained to Michael Foster of Ambient Visions online. “Sounds funny and a bit retro, but it just may be ambiguous enough to fit the bill.”
O’Hearn was bom on September 6, 1954, and grew up in a family full of artists, musicians, and actors. As O’Hearn recalled in the interview with Foster, “every get-together or holiday was an open invitation for a jam session…. I was encouraged to grab any instrument I could produce a favorable sound upon and join in.” O’Hearn’s mother played in a nightclub combo, and by the age of 15 he was playing with her band and had even earned his musicians’ union card. Over the next few years, he enjoyed steady work on the jazz scene, and was eventually recruited by avant-garde rock experimentalist Frank Zappa. He appeared on the 1978 release Läther, and in the following year’s Sheik Yerbouti, one of Zappa’s few commercially successful releases. O’Hearn can be seen in the 1979 Zappa concert film Baby Snakes as well.
In the Ambient Visions interview, O’Hearn described Zappa, who died in 1993, as “perhaps the last of a breed of composer, and I would cite Duke Ellington as an example as well, who used a large ensemble of fine musicians as an instrument.” In 1980, O’Hearn co-founded Group 87, an experimental electronic music act with guitarist Peter Maunu and trumpeter/ keyboardist Mark Isham. The trio record a self-titled debut for CBS Records in 1980, on which a former bandmate from O’Hearn’s Zappa days, Terry Bozzio, played drums. O’Hearn left Group 87 before its second recording, and joined a band called Missing Persons that Bozzio started with his wife, Dale Bozzio, and another member of Zappa’s band, Warren Cuccurullo. O’Hearn served as bass player for Missing Persons during their most successful period, before stress from the disintegrating Bozzio marriage split the band. Several of the band’s songs became hits, including “Words,” “Destination Unknown,” and “Walking in LA.” The group was also known for its outlandish stage gear, including futuristic outfits for the men and vixenish bondage gear for frontwoman Dale Bozzio.
O’Hearn later said that the Missing Persons gig was initially enjoyable. “Missing Persons was fun, for the most part, while it lasted, but I didn’t consider it a pinnacle,” he told Foster. “It was more an opportunity to play music and travel the world with good friends and musicians.” The personality clashes wore everyone down and caused O’Hearn to explore his solo-career options. “Rehearsals, which were nightly, became very stressful and I would return home afterward to my apartment where I had a small project studio, and would begin improvising and recording musical ideas that were deliberately far afield from what I had been doing earlier with the band.”
A drummer friend, Peter Baumann of Tangerine Dream, had recently launched his own label, and invited O’Hearn to join his charter roster. Their instrumental tracks were released as Ancient Dreams in 1985. “I wasn’t sure anyone would care for it,” he recalled in the interview with Foster, noting that his friends were enthusiastic about his work, but he wondered if anyone else would like it. “The beauty of those days was that I could have cared less. I loved it and that was all that mattered!”
Ancient Dreams proved a surprising success and garnered a cult following among music aficionados. Private Music, Baumann’s label, had decided to release it in CD format only, a relatively new medium at the time, which added to its allure among cognoscenti. O’Hearn’s subsequent records for the label in the late 1980s also did well, and include Between Two Worlds and River’s Gonna Rise.
O’Hearn wrote and recorded his solo records at home in a state-of-the-art studio. Around the time of his 1989 Eldorado release, he moved his family from the Los Angeles area to Atlanta. A poorly conceived dance-club remix album of his songs, Mix-Up, stunned fans in 1990, but by this time O’Hearn had found lucrative side
Born on September 6, 1954; married.
Began career as bass player in jazz combo; studio musician, 1970s; member of Frank Zappa’s band in the 1970s and appeared on Zappa’s records, beginning with Läther, 1978; cofounder of Group 87, a modern jazz group, recorded eponymous debut for CBS Records, 1980; bass player with New Wave act Missing Persons, early 1980s; formed Mushroom, a San Francisco modern jazz ensemble for which he played drums, 1998; released several solo albums of ambient music, beginning with Ancient Dreams, 1985; writer of musical scores for film and television.
work writing film and television scores. One of his first credits was for the CBS nighttime drama Falcon Crest.
O’Hearn eventually formed his own label, Deep Cave, and released Trust in 1995. It earned him a Grammy Award nomination in the New Age category that year. Metaphor followed in 1996, but O’Hearn experienced problems with his distributor, and the record disappeared from stores. At the onset of the Internet-commerce boom in the mid-1990s, O’Hearn began working with online retailer Amazon.com to sell his Deep Cave releases.
O’Hearn folded the Deep Cave label and relocated again, this time to Bat Cave, North Carolina, in Blue Ridge Mountains. He formed his own modern jazz ensemble, Mushroom, in 1998. Other members included Jon Birdsong, who had played with Beck, horn player Carroll Ashby, guitarist/saxophonist Eric Person, and keyboard player Michael Holt, among others. All had strong links to the rock scene and were jazz hobbyists interested in exploring new sounds. They drew upon the San Francisco psychedelic era of the 1960s as well as British progressive rock and early German electronica from the 1970s. “We finally decided to take stuff like old King Crimson and Miles Davis and go for it on a totally improvisational level,” O’Hearn explained to Down Beat writer Mitch Myers about Mushroom’s creative focus.
Mushroom released Foxy Music in 2001. “With oblique references toward American culture in its song titles as well as in its music, Mushroom stands apart from straight-laced fusion ensembles,” noted Myers in Down Beat. The group also put out a companion remix album, Compared to What, which Myers asserted “straddles a sonic realm somewhere between reconstructed jazz-rock and timeless German psychedelia.”
In 2001 O’Hearn also released his first solo record in four years, So Flows the Current. As he told Foster in Ambient Visions, it “took along time to make…. It’s a nice melding of ideas and mood and I think it shows a maturing over my earlier records.” Guest musicians include his former Group 87 bandmate Maunu and cellist Pat Johnston. Much of the record was recorded live in the studio, which forced O’Hearn to break his longtime reliance on synthesizers and software that he had used in his previous solo releases.
O’Hearn planned to record another work with Maunu, and still composed scores for films and television. He found this work to be much easier than working on his own records. “With a film, you are presented with an already defined template, that being the narrative, plot or story line,” he explained to Ambient Visions’ Foster. “You read the script or watch the rough cut of the film and the ideas start rolling.” He pointed out that this was “much different than pulling an album out of thin air and the challenge of keeping it cohesive.”
Ancient Dreams, Private Music, 1985.
Between Two Worlds, Private Music, 1987.
River’s Gonna Rise, Private Music, 1988.
Eldorado, Private Music, 1989
Mix-Up, Private Music, 1990.
Indigo, Private Music, 1991.
The Private Music of Patrick O’Hearn, Private Music, 1992.
Trust, Deep Cave, 1995.
Metaphor, Deep Cave, 1996.
Patrick O’Hearn: A Windham Hill Retrospective, Windham Hill, 1997.
(With Mushroom) Foxy Music, Innerspace, 2001.
So Flows the Current, self-released, 2001.
Down Beat, December 1996; June 2001.
People, November 26, 1984; November 18, 1985.
“Going with the Flow,” Patrick O’Hearn Official Website, http://www.patrickohearn.com/EQMagInterview.HTM (September 12, 2002).
“So Flows the Current: Ambient Visions Talks with Patrick O’Hearn,” Patrick O’Hearn Official Website, http://www.patrickohearn.com/AmbientVisionsInterview.HTM (September 12, 2002).
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